Cross Cultural Awareness And Preparation Of Expatriates Management Essay

The integration of world markets has resulted in an outstanding growth of multinational businesses and these corporations have emerged as an important form of foreign investment. As the organizations grow by virtue of investing in foreign countries, the need to manage, coordinate, control and integrate the foreign operations of their subsidiaries with those of the parent company increases to a large extent. To achieve the objectives of the company, parent companies in the home country usually send expatriate employees to host countries as corporate representatives and ambassadors. Firstly, the paper will focus on the importance cross-cultural awareness in preparing successful expatriates for overseas activities. Through examining the literature (comparison of Hofstede and Trompenaars cultural dimensions) this paper will examine how cultural awareness is important in developing successful expatriates. Moreover, the differences in Malaysian and American culture that can create hindrance in a successful expatriate venture will be analyzed. Finally, it will argue the importance of training and orientation in terms of preparing expatriates for foreign assignments.

Literature Review

There have been number of researches done on the relationship between cultural distance and adjustment of expatriate, with some arguing that sending expatriates to a same culture is almost similar to sending them to different culture. The studies conducted by those scholars found that there is no or positive relationship between cultural distance and expatriate adjustment. The results of a report by Jan Selmer suggests that although there is a significant between-group difference in cultural distance, that the American expatriates perceive Canada as more culturally similar to America than Germany, no significant inter-group differences are detected for general adjustment, interaction adjustment, work adjustment and psychological adjustment (Selmer, 2007).

It could be argued that American expatriates sent to Canada do not experience any cultural differences because those differences are not expected. It has been found from studies that respondents from similar cultures such as U.S. when assigned as expatriates are not keen to report adjustment problems as compare to expatriates which are assigned to more dissimilar cultures, such as China (Forster, 1997). The result given by Forster reflected that the degree of cultural strangeness does not seem to have any correlation with the result of the foreign assignment. Similarly, it has been reported that the Japanese multinational corporations have experienced that their expatriates appear to adjust “about the same” in different countries, regardless of their degree of cultural similarity to Japan (Peterson, 1996).

In contrast to the above findings, there are many researches on expatriate adjustment that lead to the conclusion that cultures which are more dissimilar to the expatriate culture present bigger challenges and result in greater adjustment difficulties (Ward & Kennedy, 1992). It has been found that found that U. S. expatriates are more likely to experience greater cultural barriers in Southeast Asia (India and Pakistan), the Middle-East, North Africa, East Africa and Liberia in the areas of job satisfaction, stress and anxiety, and quality of life standards such as housing, food, and health care (Torbiörn, 1982). Furthermore, a report by Tung suggests that American expatriates express higher levels of dissatisfaction with their expatriation experiences in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia than in other world regions since the culture in those areas are most dissimilar (Tung, 1982). Black and Stephens measures this correlation between the cultural distance and expatriate adjustment using self-report from 220 business expatriates, whose results showed negative correlations (Black & Stephens, 1989).

Hofstede Cultural Dimensions

The study conducted on IBM employees in 53 countries by Hofstede is generally referred as “Hofstede Cultural Dimensions”. By using standard statistical analysis of large data sets, he was able to define patterns of similarities and differences among the respondents. The theory formulated by using the gathered data states that world cultures differ along consistent fundamental dimensions.

Power-distance

It refers to the degree to which the members of the organizations and institutions which are less powerful accepting and expecting that power is distributed unequally (Hofstede, 1991). It represents inequality (more versus less) which is defined from below not from above. Hofstede suggests that society’s level of inequality is fully endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.

Collectivism vs. individualism

This dimension refers to the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups (Hofstede, 1991). On one side we see individualist approach in societies where the relationships between individuals are loose, where everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. But on the other side which is referred as collectivism, there are societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty (Hofstede, 1991).

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Femininity vs. Masculinity

The third dimension describe by Hofstede is masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity. This refers to the distribution of roles between the genders in a society and it is also a fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found (Hofstede, 1991). The two main results that were found out by Hofstede on his study on IBM were, first, women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values; second, men’s values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women’s values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women’s values on the other.

Uncertainty avoidance

The main purpose of uncertainty avoidance index is that it deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; ultimately referring to the man’s search for Truth (Hofstede, 1991). It refers to the extent to which the members of the society are programmed to feel uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. The situations which are novel, surprising and unknown, different from usual are referred as uncertain situations (Hofstede, 1991).

Long- vs. short-term orientation

This is the fifth dimension that was added after the initial four dimensions were developed by Hofstede. It was developed by a study conducted among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars (Bond, 2002). The results of this study revealed that the values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance and the values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one’s ‘face’ (Hofstede, 1991).

Applause and Criticism of Hofstede Theory

There are many researchers that are of the opinion that a survey is not an appropriate instrument for accurately determining and measuring cultural disparity. It is mostly apparent when the variable being measured is a value which culturally sensitive and subjective (Schwartz 1999). Perhaps this is the most popular criticism that was made on Hofstede’s study and it says that Hofstede assumes that the domestic population is a homogenous whole. It also states that Hofstede tends to ignore the importance of community, and the variations of the community influences (Dorfman and Howell 1988). McSweeney argues that nations are not the proper units of analysis as cultures are not necessarily bounded by bordersm (McSweeney, 2000). It is also proved from recent research that culture is in fact fragmented across groups.

There is also a criticism that the study revolves around one company cannot possibly provide information on the entire cultural system of a country (Graves 1986). It is also believed by some researchers have claimed that the study is too old to be of any modern value, particularly with today’s rapidly changing global environments, internationalization and convergence. It has been argued that during the time of Hofstede’s study there was very little work on culture. There was demand for such kind of work and therefore, Hofstede’s work met demand for guidance.

Trompenaars Cultural Dimensions

Fons Trompenaars, a Dutch culturalist who is renowned for his work on international culture and Charles Hampden-Turner, a dilemma enthusiast classified seven dimensions of cultures’. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) categorized cultures as a mix of behavioral and value patterns. The research emphasize on the cultural dimensions of business executives. As a result of their research, seven value dimensions were established

Universalism vs. Particularism

The dimension of universalism is about finding broad and general rules. If any issue arises and there is no rule that fits, it finds the best rule. On the other hand, Particularism is about finding exceptions. The judgment of cases on its own merits rather than forcing an existing rule in case where no rules fit.

Analyzing vs. Integrating

The decomposition to find the detail is analyzing. It assumes that people who look at the big picture as being out of touch with reality. Integrating refers to bringing the things together to build the big picture.

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Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualism is about the rights of the individual. It seeks to let each person grow or fail on their own, and sees group-focus as denuding the individual of their inalienable rights. Collectivism is about the rights of the group or society. It seeks to put the family, group, company and country before the individual. It sees individualism as selfish and short-sighted (Trompenaars and Turner, 2000).

Inner-directed vs. Outer-directed

The approach that what we think in our head is the most powerful tool and that considered ideas and intuitive approaches are the best way. On the other hand, outer-directed is seeking data in the outer world. It assumes that we will live in a world and should form our decisions on information available to us (Trompenaars and Turner, 2000).

Time as sequence vs. Time as synchronization

The approach towards time as sequence and sees events as separate items in time, sequence one after another. It finds order in a serried array of actions that happen one after the other. Whereas, time as synchronization approaches the events in parallel and synchronized together (Trompenaars and Turner, 2000).

Achieved status vs. Ascribed status

The gain of status through performance is achieved status. In this it is assumed that individuals and organizations earn and lose their status every day, and that other approaches are recipes for failure. Gaining status through means of seniority is referred as ascribed status (Trompenaars and Turner, 2000).

Equality vs. Hierarchy

The approach that all people have equal status and have equal rights, irrespective of birth or other gift is referred as equality. Whereas, hierarchy is about people being superior to others when few are in charge and others obey through the scalar chain of command (Trompenaars and Turner, 2000).

Applause and Criticism of Trompenaars and Turner Theory

The work done by Trompenaars and Turner is regarded as one of the best in its field but at the same time there has been some criticism of Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner. One of their critics is Hofstede, who claims that the theory of Trompenaars is not supported by his database. Hofstede (1996) argues that a result of correlation and factor analysis at the country level, there are only two dimensions that could be identified and both of them are correlated with his “Individualism” dimension. This criticism by Hofstede was accepted by Turner & Trompenaars (1997) and two contrasting lists of assumptions attributed to Hofstede’s work and their own were presented by them. It is also been debated that Trompenaars and Turner didn’t develop the dimensions from statistical data, but created their own collection instrument for the data they considered relevant Data derived from questionnaires is based on a limited number of questions by which underlying values were explained. Another notable criticism is that the data is only selectively documented i.e. it is not to be considered scientific work. Also, the data (not all) is not freely available, it is owned by his company. The difference in the two works (Hofstede’s and Trompenaars & tuner) is that Hofstede’s approach appears to be about the analysis of the variables of national culture, whereas Trompenaars and Turner are more involved in the process of cultural creation. It is also widely believed that there were very valuable dimensions that were added by Trompenaars and Turner.

Hofstede and Trompenaars & Turner and Preparation of Expatriate

Challenges faced by Expatriates (Malaysian and American Culture)

The globalization of world has made many international organizations to expand their business globally. Barto and Martin (1998) refer to globalization process a worldwide integration strategy where the purpose involves at developing relatively standardized products with global appeals, as well as rationalizing operations throughout the world. In order to achieve the objectives, organizations are required to send their designate representatives for overseas assignments in order to maintain the standards of their products or services abroad. A study was conducted in Malaysia to examine the issues faced by American expatriates working in Malaysia (Tahir & Ismail, 2007).

Attitudes of Malaysians

Difficulties faced in understanding the indirect and non-confrontational behavior of Malaysians

Malaysians’ misconception towards ‘Mat Salleh’

Custom and Religion

Problems in understanding the dress code of the locals

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Being cautious over religious issues

Addressing Social Status: Difficulty in addressing names of Malaysians according to social status

Gender Issues in Expatriation: Preconceived ideas about western women expatriates

Malaysian Working Habit

Difficulty in complying with the working pace

High level of bureaucracy hinders job implementation

Cross-cultural Training: Unavailability of a Structured Cross-Cultural Training program

Importance of Training and Orientation

The extent to which expatriates fail to achieve the expected outcomes of a foreign assignment is due to different reasons such as language problems, lack of effective knowledge transfer between the home and the host country (Tung, 1987), lack of personality skills for the expatriate to understand the cross-cultural interactions, shortage of technical abilities for the work to be done, lack of motivation or the expatriate may have difficulties to understand and adapt to either the physical or the cultural differences in the environment (Littrell et al., 2006). Companies use a variety of methods to teach expatriates cross-cultural skills, aimed at facilitating interactions with a foreign culture.

Didactic Training

This type of raining is most often provided in informal briefings, which can be given in a classical lecture form or with less structured methods such as casual conversations with experts. It is the most common and more than two thirds of all multinational corporations offer didactic training in the form of informal briefings to their expatriates before deployment abroad (Brewster, 1995). This kind of training provides factual information regarding working and living conditions as well as cultural aspects of the host country.

Experiential Training

This training is conveyed using a number of methods including, not only, practical exercises, workshops and simulations, but also more genuine concepts such as look-see visits to the host country (Caligiuri et al., 2001). The arrangement of look-see trips can provide a first real experience of the country for the expatriate and sometimes his or her family giving them opportunity to meet people in the new country and get a view of the new environment and the workplace. The planning of these trips should be properly done in order to be effective they need to be well planned, which can make them costly. Brewster (1995) argues that these are designed to give the expatriate a positive view; they may not show the true picture of the host country (Brewster, 1995).

Language Training

Teaching expatriates the language and/or the business language of the host country is part of the language training. Tung (1981) suggests that while fluency can take months or even years to attain there are still benefits of using this training method. This technique is often used and is an effective way of preparing an expatriate to speed up the adjustment process. Although fluency in the native language is not achieved, the ability to enter into informal discussions, use common courtesies and show cultural empathy can help to facilitate adaptation to the host culture.

Cultural Awareness Training

The ultimate objective of cultural awareness training is to give the expatriate insight about the culture and cultural differences, by teaching awareness about the home culture. There are different training activities that are included such as self-awareness building and value ranking charts, but the goals can also be reached with more culture-general approaches, such as simulation games and perceptual exercises (Grove & Torbiörn, 1985). Methods such as role-plays and self-assessments can be a good way of building self awareness, which translates into acceptance of oneself and an ability to adapt to the host culture.

Conclusions

In reviewing various cultural theories presented by different authors, it is obvious that culture plays a vital role in doing business globally. Companies that look to expand their operations globally must understand the host culture in depth and cross-cultural dimensions developed by Hofstede and Trompenaars & Turner are of great help in this field. Also, organizations wishing to go global by investing in foreign countries, there is always a growing need to manage, coordinate, control and integrate the foreign operations and therefore, the importance of expatriates cannot be ignored. However, it is also found out that preparing expatriates is a great challenge and organizations invest lot of resources to prepare and train them for foreign assignments. Finally, the type of training and orientation provided to the expatriates is plays a significant importance in the successful fulfillment of overseas assignment.

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